The Case for Adam & Eve as Spiritual Ancestors of Humans
(A scenario of Evolutionary Creationism)

Some Christians go the way of seeing Genesis 1-11 as entirely figurative, but that leaves questions of where does ‘original sin,’ 'death,' the need for a savior, and Paul’s apparent reference to a literal Adam, fit in? You can go the route that the creation story is all ‘literal,’ but that contradicts mainstream scientific evidence. And it’s contrary to the rest of the Bible, because nowhere else does the Bible convey new scientific information[1]. What remains is some mix of literal and figurative. We don’t know, nor do we have to know exactly what that story was, but there needs to at least be some plausible scenarios or models that bring scientific truth and God’s word into compatibility with each other. This is one:  

Early homo sapiens, including ‘archaic homo sapiens’ and even possibly ‘anatomically modern homo sapiens’ (aka "homo s. sapiens"), were essentially advanced animals. They acted out of instinct, not any awareness of good or evil. 

Sometime, probably between 45,000 and 100,000 years ago (although it could have been earlier), during or after what science calls the "population bottleneck" which left only 1,000 to 20,000 of them[2], God could have completed the creation which He began billions of years earlier, by deeply interacting with a couple of chosen homo s. sapiens. While the story could have had lots of figurative and spiritual elements (including the beginning of 'souls', sin, spiritual life, 'image of God[3]', and spiritual 'death[4]') implied in Genesis, it also could also have a number of the literal elements. Keeping in mind the very limited language that homo s. sapiens had at that time, God may have used visual symbolic elements to better communicate with Adam and Eve and/or with those who later told or wrote the story to early humans. 

There are some principles that can guide us in thinking about a plausible Adam and Eve story:
1. Christians believe that God physically intervened in history by sending his son to earth as a redemption for our sins. Most believe that God intervened numerous times in Old Testament Jewish history, in Jesus’ lifetime, and in the disciples’ stories after Jesus left the earth. If he physically intervened multiple times in human history, surely he would have intervened in the beginning of humans with souls.
2. If God did intervene physically at the beginning of humans with souls, surely he would have wanted to communicate, in some way, that story - with all the spiritual significance of it. This does not mean that he was intent on conveying a scientific story - if he had, the ancient hearers/readers would have deeply confused (because scientific information was totally a foreign concept to them) and the power of spiritual message would have been greatly obscured.
3. If God did intervene at the beginning of humans with souls, surely it would have been rather dramatic and had some impact on human history, even while not providing ‘proof’ his involvement (which God seems to choose not to do, probably because he wanted us to come to him out of free will.) So, it seems reasonable to believe that he would connect with humans at the exact right time in evolutionary history when remarkable changes in human behavior happened. [5] & [7]

It is hard to imagine that Adam and Eve wouldn’t have also had at least some new cognitive and language development in the process of their interaction with God. They may not only have become humans with souls, but 'crossed the line' to full consciousness[5], symbolic thinking, language development, and an awareness of good and evil and free will - including to disobey God, which ultimately resulted in the first sin. They then influenced surrounding homo s. sapiens, where their new excitement, behaviors, and their story about God, could have influenced the others to also have an awareness of a new way of thinking, moral and immoral behavior, and free will - thereby 'crossing the line' to spiritual life as well, including sin. Eventually, this could have spread socially to all surviving lines of homo s. sapiens, while all other hominids died out[6]. It ultimately could possibly have contributed to the big growth in symbolic thinking, consciousness, language, religious behavior, ability to make more advanced tools, ability to work together more, and to migrate more successfully - which comprise what scientists call "behaviorally modern homo sapiens” and lead to "the Great Leap Forward" and the "Out of Africa" migration to the rest of the world. Leading secular scientists like Ian Tattersall say that the speed of the behavioral changes (not counting the spiritual aspects which scientists don't recognize) was "almost unimaginable[7]."

Adam and Eve in this way, become the spiritual ancestors of all surviving humans, even though they were not biologically the ancestors of all humans.[8]

God may have created Adam and Eve to be the first full humans and the figurative embodiment of the story told in Genesis

It is best for a 'plausible scenario' to not get overly specific on aspects that we don't know for sure. This scenario has room for some variation in ways to see it. For example, some thinkers like the idea of Adam and Eve being a forerunner of Israel (‘proto-Israel’) or for the Genesis 2 human creation story to be a sequel to the Genesis 1 human creation story. This scenario could allow for that as well, although it is definitely not required. 

We can tend to think of the introduction of evil and spiritual death as making it a pretty negative story, and it certainly is to some extent. But God doesn't give up on humans. His actions throughout history show his love and redemption. 

 

Footnotes:

1. ”Is there any new revelation pertaining to science in the Bible?... I would contend that it does not… This does not preclude the text from reporting historical events that would have involved science that the ancients did not understand (e.g. the mechanics of the flood). In such cases, the Bible is not providing scientific revelation; it is being silent on scientific matters.” From The World of Adam and Eve, by John Walton.
2. Scientists tend to believe that the remaining population was in a limited area of East Africa. To be sure, science also shows evidence of modern homo sapiens activity 95,000 years ago in Qafzeh & Skhul, Israel, who died out or returned to East Africa around 80,000 years ago. Thus, there is small chance that Adam and Eve were in this area when 'first contact with God' was made, then they returned to E. Africa and spread spiritual life to others.
3. The “image of God” which started with Adam and Eve, may refer to spiritual life, rationality, volitionality, being representatives of God on earth, and able to relate to God.
4. There are various alternative meanings to the introduction of 'death' from the "Fall." a) It could be 'spiritual' death or b) it is possible that God intended for spiritual humans (without sin) to have a gentle, almost seamless, transition to eternal spiritual life, but that as a consequence to rebellion, there was a new and fearful awareness of pending physical death to Adam and Eve. Because sin spread with spiritual life, no one experienced that, except possibly Enoch and Elijah. Thus, death could have meant 'mortality.'
5. It's interesting that after all these years, science cannot come up with an acceptable model of how consciousness happens: See https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/21/-sp-why-cant-worlds-greatest-minds-solve-mystery-consciousness. Could that be because it happened as a result of God's interaction at a key point in human evolution?
6. This included archaic homo sapiens (it is unknown when they died out). The last of Neanderthals and Denisovans died out about 30,000 years ago. It is interesting that while most species had more and more distinct, branching 'lines' within their species, only “behaviorally modern homo sapiens” remained from the genus of homo.
7. “Our ancestors made an almost unimaginable transition from a non-symbolic, nonlinguistic way of processing and communicating information about the world to the symbolic and linguistic condition we enjoy today. It is a qualitative leap in cognitive state unparalleled in history. Indeed, as I’ve said, the only reason we have for believing that such a leap could ever have been made, is that it was made.” -Tattersall, Ian, “Masters of the Planet,” page 199.
8. Some argue that it is possible for Adam & Eve to be the biological parents of humankind even if they were in a group of thousands of others, based on superior intellect which could have resulted over time with them out reproducing others without that intellect. For example, see Kenneth Kemp article on "Science, Theology, and Mongenesis" http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf